Like All Myths, the Stories of Jesus’ Birth are True, for Myths Only Become Untrue When they are Presented as Facts – a sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

refugee-nativity-erbile

Readings from the first chapter of Luke included the stories of the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth and Mary’s radical song – The Magnificat.   Listen to the sermon here

Last night my brother Alan and I were chatting online about Christmases past. We reminisced about the Secret Sam Attaché Case he got the year I had to settle for a Chatty Cathy Doll. My Brother’s toy transformed him into a secret agent allowing him to peer around corners with a Secret Sam periscope, and take photographs, while the case was closed. Alan’s toy transformed him into a spy capable of holding his own in the world of counterespionage, while I had to settle for Chatty Cathy Doll that could only say a few words when I pulled the string on the back of her neck. We both agreed that girls’ toys sucked. That is until the following Christmas when I talked my Dad into buying me my very own microscope and my brother and I spent the holidays looking at pond scum. We would head down to the pond and fill jars with the scummiest water we could find and then head home to look at the microscopic creatures that inhabited this strange little world. While we were chatting, my brother told me about a colleague whose son died quite suddenly last year. Suddenly, without warning the nostalgia of Christmas disappeared as we contemplated the horror of losing a child. For so many families this and every year Christmas is forever transformed from the simple joys of nostalgia to the painful experience of longing for simpler, gentler times, when all Christmas had to do was jingle a bell or two to bring out the child in us. Life is a complicated mystery. Life is full of unanswerable questions. Life is filled with all sorts of experiences and emotions. Yet, every year we look to our Christmas traditions, stories and rituals to open us to the possibility of all the joy and peace that life has to offer.

I ended our chat by sharing a treasured memory of good old simpler days, when my brother Alan and I would enjoy our very own Christmas Eve tradition of watching the old black and white version of A Christmas Carol; the one in which Alistair Sim plays Scrooge.  So, last night, I dozed off with Alistair Sim’s Scrooge dancing in my head and singing, “I don’t know anything. I never did know anything. But now I know that I don’t know. All on a Christmas morning.”

No ghosts visited me in the night, but just like Ebenezer Scrooge, I did dream dreams of Christmas’ long ago. You see, Scrooge wasn’t the only movie that my brother and I used to watch. Alan was particularly fond of science-fiction movies. Sometimes, when he would manage to convince me to watch one of these movies with him, I would complain after just a few minutes in, that the premise was just too unbelievable; I mean really nothing like that could ever actually happen. Alan would remind me that you don’t have to believe them; you just have to watch them, go with the story, see where it takes you.

When you really think about it, many of our best-loved stories never actually happened the way we tell them. Take Scrooge for example; does any one of us actually believe that Ebenezer was really visited by three ghosts?  We know that it is a story that never actually happened the way it has been told to us; and yet it has the power to take us somewhere, to move us as we watch the incredible transformation of old Scrooge and we too are moved to keep Christmas well. Continue reading

Cheap, Small, and Plastic: a Christmas Eve Sermon for Progressive Christians

I have been asked to post last year’s Christmas Eve sermon. You can listen to it or read a transcript.  The progressive version of God Rest Ye Progressive Christians appears in the transcript. I searched without success for its source. If you know who wrote it please let me know.

Listen to the sermon


Last night, while suffering from a serious case of writers’ block, panic set in as I desperately struggled to figure out what to say to you all this evening. I’d spent most of the afternoon in my office, reading and re-reading chapters, articles and sermons, searching for a way to express the inexpressible. Christmas Eve is a challenge for a preacher. You all know the story so well that there’s nothing new that I can say.  Then there’s the fact that many of you don’t make it to church all that often, so we preachers kinda want to make our Christmas Eve sermons something special, in the hope that we might just inspire you to come back some Sunday morning. Add to that the fact that we at Holy Cross fall in to a category of Christianity that has been called “progressive” which means that we’re pretty clear on the fact that the Christmas stories in the New Testament  are full of metaphors and symbols that point to various truths about the nature of the MYSTERY we call God, as well as truths about ourselves and our life in the world.

As Progressive Christians living in the 21st century, we are fond of using the best scholarship available as we study the scriptures and so we know that the New Testament stories about the birth of Jesus are not actual historical accounts of the events of Jesus’ birth. So, last night as the panic began to get the better of me, I did what writers do when we are in the midst of a serious block, under the threat of a looming dead-line, I looked for a way to distract myself in the hope that if I gave my brain a rest, something might occur to me. Well by the time I made it back to my computer, I was determined that I’d throw caution to the wind and write a very informative, scholarly sermon which would give you all a progressive Christian view of the nativity. But you can all relax because, thanks to the arrival of an email, you have all been saved from Satan’s power. The email was from a colleague in  Australia for whom the Christmas Eve deadline had already come and gone, so he was feeling more than a little smug about having finished his sermon. His message to me came in the lyric of a song, which I’d love to sing for you. But most of you know that with my singing voice it is better that I just read to you what he wrote:

“God rest ye Progressive Christians, let nothing you dismay.

Remember there’s no evidence that there was a Christmas day.

When Christ was born is just not known, no matter what they say.

Good tidings of reason and fact; reason and fact;

Good tidings of rea-son and fact.

 

There was no star of Bethlehem; there was no angel song.

There could have been no wise men for the journey was too long.

The stories in the Bible are historical-ly wrong.

Good tidings of reason and fact; reason and fact;

Good tidings of rea-son and fact.

 

Much of our Christmas custom comes from Persia and from Greece.

From solstice celebrations of the ancient Middle East.

We know this so-called holiday is but a pagan feast.

Good tidings of reason and fact; reason and fact;

Good tidings of rea-son and fact.”

Well after singing that over to myself, I shut down my computer and went to bed. I went to sleep longing for the good old simpler days, when my brother Alan and I could enjoy our very own Christmas Eve tradition of watching the old black and white version of A Christmas Carol; the one were Alistair Sim plays Scrooge. I told myself that if I just went to sleep, something would come to me and I’d wake up knowing just what to say to you all on this night of nights. So, I dozed off with Alistair Sim’s Scrooge dancing in my head and singing, “I don’t know anything. I never did know anything. But now I know that I don’t know. All on a Christmas morning.”

It may not have been the ghost of Christmas past who visited me last night, but it certainly was a Christmas from my past. I must have caught a glimpse of it earlier in the day, when the box of Christmas decorations was hauled upstairs. It’s a small thing really. Something I bought to adorn my very first apartment. You see, my first apartment was just a small studio, everything in one little room, so there was no room for a Christmas tree. So, I decided that if I couldn’t fit a tree in there, I might just be able to manage a nativity set. But I didn’t have much money to spare and all the nativity sets I liked were outrageously expensive and then one day I saw it on a store-shelf, a tiny little nativity that I could actually afford. It had been marked down, from $16 to $12.95. From where I was standing it looked like it had been carved out of the finest wood. I knew that I just had to have it. When I reached out to take it off the shelf, I realized that it was actually made of plastic and suddenly the $12.95 price tag seemed way too much to pay for this mass-produced piece of plastic. But the longer I looked at it the more I knew that my little apartment needed it. Would you like to see it?

It may be small. It may just be a cheap imitation, but when I look at it I see all the hopes and dreams of all the years as they are told in the story of stories. No more ghosts visited me in the night, but just like Ebenezer Scrooge, I woke up knowing just what I had to do. You see Scrooge wasn’t the only movie that my brother and I used to watch. Alan was particularly fond of science-fiction movies. Sometimes, when he would manage to convince me to watch one of this movies with him, I would complain after just a few minutes in, that the premise was just too unbelievable; I mean really nothing like that could ever actually happen. Alan would remind me that you don’t have to believe them; you just have to watch them, go with the story, see where it takes you. When you really think about it, many of our best-loved stories never actually happened the way we tell them. Take Scrooge for example; does any one of us actually believe that Ebenezer was really visited by three ghosts?  We know that it is a story that never actually happened the way it has been told to us; and yet it has the power to take us somewhere, to move us as we watch the incredible transformation of old Scrooge and we too are moved to keep Christmas well. Continue reading

The First Nativity – Cheap, Small, and Plastic

The First Nativity for My First Apartment

The first Nativity purchased years ago for my first apartment – Cheap, small, and plastic.

A Christmas Eve Sermon for Progressive Christians

The First Nativity: Cheap, Small,

and Plastic

Listen to the sermon here